Backing down from a disastrous proposal, the state’s coastal board indulged in too much politics and not enough commitment to the coast in a “compromise” that seems more of a hold-up than a principled discussion.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, under pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, was scheduled to vote Wednesday on a proposal to divert excess Deepwater Horizon settlement funds to La. 1 elevation work.
This was widely and rightly decried as pork-barrel spending with coastal funds that should be sacrosanct.
That’s off the table, but we worry that the administration is still getting its way in a fashion that could hamper our state’s future efforts to get federal support for the massive project of preserving Louisiana’s eroding coastline.
Here is the deal: Instead of using whatever future extra money there is from certain Deepwater Horizon civil penalties for the La. 1 work, the board agreed to look at funding priorities for money it receives from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.
Yes, that is money that Louisiana politicians from Jindal on down have said would be committed to coastal preservation and restoration, but there’s a loophole established in 2006 in the federal law: up to 10 percent of that money can be spent on coastal infrastructure directly impacted by coastal land loss.
The elevation of La. 1 is a valuable project, but it’s expensive, and Jindal has made a hash of state revenues. Toward the end of his two terms, a raid on coastal revenues was contemplated. That threat forced this “compromise.”
We see this debate as having two problems. One is that it’s Jindal’s responsibility to see that the state’s road and bridge work is properly funded, and he and the Legislature now want to cut into coastal funds, one way or another, because they’ve failed to finance La. 1 work. Boosters of the La. 1 project want to get dibs on the GOMESA money, regardless of whether there are more pressing needs elsewhere. That’s part of the politics of this discussion.
A second problem is with perception.
A key part of Louisiana’s restoration work is going to be started with existing revenue streams, but the vast scope of the need is probably going to eclipse the $50 billion estimate in the master plan. The BP settlement is a major down payment, and GOMESA funds from offshore oil and gas production should provide a long-term revenue source.
But we’re still going to have to go to Congress for more money — a lot more money. We hope that Congress does not see the GOMESA set-aside for infrastructure as a diversion from our commitment to the coast. Maybe that fine print and the CPRA’s lawyering of the provision will not look bad, but it might.